My inbox is currently flooded with suggestions of delivery services offering to supply Michelin-quality ingredients for me to put together. If only, they hint, I can fold a couple of napkins into the shape of a swan and light a pink tapered candle, I can imagine myself in some mythical Chez Bruce.
Coronavirus may have stripped loo roll and spaghetti from the shelves of every supermarket, yet supplies of tarragon, toasted pine nuts and black truffles appear to be holding up very nicely. But I have a secret kitchen gadget that’s better than any carefully packaged box of esoteric ingredients. I have a Thermomix.
The food processor, first developed in 1971 by a German firm, but particularly popular in France, is a combined chopper, cooker and weighing scales. It can knead dough, ferment kimchi or yoghurt, cook a perfect sous-vide steak, steam trout and prepare rice to sushi standards.
I first came upon the wonder-gadget at the house of a French farmer, a cook so expert she makes her own wine, saucisson and even (whisper it) foie gras with her own flock of ducks – who appear to have a happy, if short, life. One evening, she invited us to an ‘aperitif dinatoire’ which is usually something only the swankier French fashion brands aspire to.
We turned up and sat in her farmyard admiring the sunset while chickens scratched in the yard, and ate course upon course of unbelievably fancy canapes ranging from emmental gougeres to arancini to chicken skewers with satay dip. Excellent cook she may be, but previously she’d always stuck to local recipes involving a lot of jambon de pays, roquefort and the odd wild-boar stew if her huntsman father had got lucky in the forest that week. But she appeared to have been on a culinary world tour with this cocktail party.
She explained that it was all thanks to the Thermomix and gleefully demonstrated its apparently infinite range. I was smitten.
And now I have one sitting by the cooker and, with Government-enforced social isolation, it has come into its own. It isn’t particularly beautiful. There’s definitely something of the hospital operating theatre about its lines and Dolce & Gabbana probably won’t be personalising one à la Smeg kettle any time soon. But never mind that. For with the help of Thermomix, the most inept cook transforms magically into a Masterchef contestant.
The secret of its success is that it’s linked to an app that holds 40,000 recipes and counting. You just search on the app for, say, salted caramel pecan parsnip cake, chicken breast pizzaiola, cod with citrus butter or lemon sorbet, download the recipe onto the device and it takes you through creating the dish, step by detailed step.
Any idiot can do it. Literally. I dispatched my son, 12, to make a bearnaise sauce – a process that calls for a delicate alchemy of temperature, ingredients and wrist technique not to turn into scrambled egg, and 15 minutes later, there it was, perfectly creamy and professional-looking.
It wasn’t the bearnaise sauce I’d have made, but no doubt it was all the better for that. Then my daughter, 13, whipped up a quick pizza dough for a Sunday supper pizza feast. I went off to potter in the garden, and next time I came into the kitchen, there was a lovely mound of yeasty dough rising under a clean dishcloth.
Every new customer gets an appointment with a Thermomix expert who comes to their house and puts them through the device’s paces. My consultant, Annita, helped me make, among other things, a noble focaccia, a pea-and-mint soup, and a raspberry sorbet. She also talked me through the basic mechanics of the thing. You can employ it as a straightforward food mixer as well, to chop, blend and mash, though that’s like using a Ferrari Monza SP2 on the school run. Ah, school runs, those were the blissful days.
This is not merely a gadget for amateurs, though. At a smart breakfast at Tom Dixon’s Coal Office restaurant in King’s Cross (those were blissful days too), I spotted one on the chef’s pass. Annita told me that was nothing: there are some top restaurants in Paris that have 14 of the things. With 14, I too could run a top restaurant. Maybe.
My only caveat about Thermomix is that nothing it makes tastes like I’d cooked it. I may not be the most sophisticated gourmet, but I do have a style of cooking which is, like my French farmer friend’s, heavily influenced by the Languedoc. So I’m all for duck fat and garlic, aubergines, and lots of slow stewing.
Thermomix irons out all my culinary kinks so nothing’s ever over-salted, undercooked or too spicy. Perhaps it’s the imperfections that give a home-cooked meal their personality. Or perhaps not. At any event, after three months of home cooking any family will want a break from mum’s signature dishes.
One of the million viral videos of self-isolation immolation currently doing the rounds is of a mother breaking the news to her five-year-old daughter that Nando’s, McDonald’s, all Chinese takeaways and KFC are currently shut. Instead, the little girl is going to have to eat food ‘cooked by mummy’. Cue heartbroken wailing from the deprived kid. Well, if the mother can only get her hands on a Thermomix, pronto, that sobbing will cease.
Apply to buy a Thermomix, £1,000, at vorwerk.co.uk
Read more: The best high-end home delivery food boxes
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